Fair Trade

Costa Rica on Sunday will become the first country where citizens have the opportunity to vote for or against a trade agreement. Despite being heavily outspent by the moneyed interests, despite opposition from the Costa Rican government and the U.S. ambassador, despite an extremely hostile media, the latest polls show momentum building for the opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the voice for the wealthy and powerful in the United Stat

Costa Rica on Sunday will become the first country where citizens have the opportunity to vote for or against a trade agreement. Despite being heavily outspent by the moneyed interests, despite opposition from the Costa Rican government and the U.S. ambassador, despite an extremely hostile media, the latest polls show momentum building for the opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the voice for the wealthy and powerful in the United States, twice this week took on Senator Bernie Sanders in a column and editorial about the Costa Rica referendum. The Journal also published the senator's response.

While I strongly disagree with The Wall Street Journal editorial page's right-wing ideology, I'll give you points for persistence. Year after year, despite all of the evidence, you continue to be a cheerleader for the unfettered free-trade policies that, while benefiting multinational corporations, have caused so much economic pain for working families here in the U.S. and our trading partners abroad.

Ms. O'Grady is telling the people of Costa Rica how wonderful passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement will be for them. The Journal said the exact same thing to the people of Mexico during the 1993 debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. And what happened with the passage of Nafta? In Mexico, the agricultural sector has been decimated by cheap exports from American agribusiness. Poverty has increased, the middle class has declined and people are literally dying in the desert trying to flee Mexico for the U.S.

Working families in Mexico suffer, the rich have gotten richer and we now have the obscenity of the wealthiest person in the world, Mexican Carlos Slim Helu, coming from a country in which millions of families struggle to feed their children. This may be the kind of economic development championed by you, but not by me. We can have trade policies that can do better, that must do better.

It's not only Mexico and other developing countries that have been hurt by these unfettered pro-corporate free-trade agreements. It's also the working families in the U.S. who are now engaged in a horrendous "race to the bottom."

Despite an explosion of technology and a huge increase in worker productivity, poverty in America is increasing, the middle class is shrinking, and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider. In the past six years, millions of good-paying jobs in the U.S. have been lost as companies shut down here and move to China and other low-wage countries. During that same period, median household income for working-age families has declined by about $2,500, 8.6 million Americans have lost their health insurance, three million have lost their pensions, and millions are working longer hours for lower wages. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is now the highest of any industrialized country and greater than at any time since the 1920s.

On Oct. 7, Costa Rica will become the first country where citizens have the opportunity to vote for or against a trade agreement. Despite being heavily outspent by the moneyed interests, despite opposition from the Costa Rican government and the U.S. ambassador, despite an extremely hostile media, the latest polls have the election as a toss-up. Incredibly, just the other day, in a nation of only four million people, well over 100,000 marched in opposition to the treaty -- a sign of the deep grassroots opposition there to Cafta.

Notwithstanding Ms. O'Grady's assertions, my recent trip to Costa Rica was not about telling the people there how to vote. That's their business, not mine. The trip that Rep. Mike Michaud and I made was to help counter the lies being spread in Costa Rica that suggested that if the people there, exercising their democratic rights, voted "no" on Cafta, the U.S. government would punish them by excluding them from the Caribbean Basin Initiative as well as other punitive actions.

The Journal and I may disagree on the merits of unfettered free trade, but there should be no disagreement that when the people in a free, democratic and independent country like Costa Rica vote their conscience they should not be punished by the world's superpower. That is not what democracy is about.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.)
Washington